Swimming in Brutalist Fountains

I think of my six year-old self and my friend Steve.

It is the first day of first grade.

Summer’s tint is still glowing from our skins. We wear the defiance of hot days roaming between shadows and light. Peanut butter and jelly and soft brown bread remnants on our faces.

We are walking, unhurried, along the sidewalk.

We are stuck in the adventure, the freedom, of summer. Lost in the memory of wild ranging and wandering in what felt like a vast unmapped wilderness but was really just a few looping residential blocks.

Atmosphere No.4, 2020

We strip summer clothes off, down to our y-front briefs with their bright white lines across red or blue, and jump into the brutalist fountain in front of the new apartment tower where neither of us lived. The pool of concrete is is filled with sharply cold water that we ignore while we engage in the thrill of this swim on a September morning.

Steve is splashing, leaping then twisting his body under the water. There is enough room in this odd concrete water feature that our young bodies feel even smaller and the water deep.

After unkept time, Steve and I are dressed again, damp under t-shirts and wide-legged corduroys. Toes slipping around in humid socks.

We walk through the shortcut between apartment towers now towards school, the agency of summer still strong in our steps. Moving abreast down the next street arms swinging. We are in sight of the school that will be mine for only two years — for Steve maybe longer but this is my last real memory of him.

Atmosphere No. 1, 2020

We run, echoing across the vacant asphalt school yard with its painted squares, rings, and hopscotch pathways. We leap up the stone stairs to the wide wooden doors opening for the first time.

Inside, guts sinking, looking down empty halls for our new classroom. Hair still flat wet, dark rims of water around collars. We don’t look at each other. There is no shared adventurers bond remaining, just two small boys opening their first classroom door, drowned spirits iced by the look of the teacher, her high tight brown perm and severe gaze above a crisp white shirt tightly buttoned at her neck, the tendons stiff.

Grassland, 2020

There are the rows of other kids to be forgotten, faces unfamiliar in later viewings of this year’s class photo. But today they all see you and somehow Steve has blended into the class elusively as if his morning hadn’t been spent twisting in brutalist waters.

All of those nameless faces looking back with smirks and giggles at your waterlogged entrance. No hero’s welcome for keeping summer alive for a few precious minutes longer.

What became of this? There was some call or letter sent home, some first strike on an unremarkable record.

All that lasts is the distant child shame of arriving ridiculous and damp at the front of that class and then somehow a full year in school leaving no mark, no image to memory.

Emanuel will be killed on Yonge Street the next year and my Mother will take me away from Toronto in an act of caring and protection which I will nonetheless carry as the loss of life as this city boy, briefly golden in warm morning light, wet and free in a pool of opportune concrete.

Steve and me, 1975